Key point: Although Moscow claimed they damaged the fighter in 2017, the proof is unclear as to what exactly happened.
Did a Russian anti-aircraft missile hit one of Israel’s new F-35 stealth fighters?
Pro-Russian media are claiming that an Israeli F-35I was hit and damaged by a Russian-made S-200 surface-to-air missile during an Israeli air strike in Syria earlier this month. Israel says one of its F-35s was damaged—after colliding with a bird.
The story begins on October 16, when Israel announced that its aircraft had struck a Syrian SAM battery near Damascus that had fired two hours earlier on Israeli reconnaissance planes flying over Lebanon. The attack damaged the missile battery, and no Israeli aircraft were hit, according to Israel. Coincidentally or not, the incident happened the same day that Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, arrived in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
However, Southfront.org, a website that covers the Russian military and its intervention in the Syrian Civil War, suggested a different story. “According to the available information, the Syrian Defense Forces used a S-200 missile against the Israeli warplane,” Southfront claimed.
Southfront could not resist pointing out that a much-vaunted F-35 stealth fighter had been hit by a missile that dates back to the 1960s. “This Soviet-made missile is the most advanced long range anti-aircraft system operated by the Syrian military. Even in this case, it’s old-fashioned in terms of modern warfare.”
However, the evidence cited by Southfront seems rather tenuous. Hours after the Israeli military announced the strike on the Syrian missile battery, Israeli media reported that an Israeli F-35 had been damaged by a bird strike two weeks before (Google translation here). The plane reportedly landed safely, but the Israeli Air Force did admit that it wasn’t sure whether the plane will fly again. Israel has taken delivery of only seven F-35Is so far, with a total of fifty on order.